Adrenal insufficiency syndrome is more widespread than you might think. Your adrenal glands don’t often get the attention they deserve and you’ll know when yours aren’t happy. These small layered glands reside on top of your kidneys. As a matter of fact, these little guys are critical for healthy kidney function and the production of hormones—particularly stress and sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone). In fact, the word “adrenal” comes from the Latin for “near the kidney”.
The core of the adrenals (medulla) produces neurotransmitters that receive input from the brain and releases hormones so we react accordingly (1). Adrenaline and norepinephrine push the body to action (fight/flight/freeze), increasing heart rate and blood flow. On the other hand, dopamine is the pleasure hormone, regulating emotional responses and body movement.
The middle layer (cortex) is responsible for sex and steroid hormone production. In fact, steroid hormones regulate the sleep cycle and blood pressure and are involved in the metabolism of food into usable energy. The outer part of the adrenals (capsule) is composed of adipose (fat) tissue to protect the adrenal glands.
More often than not, we hit the adrenal glands too hard and too often. “First World” lifestyles are, to a large extent, driven by emotional stress (school, work, finances, relationships) and our food, water, and air all contain harmful chemicals that apply physical stress on top of that.
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Left unattended, adrenal fatigue can lead to adrenal insufficiency.
Signs of adrenal fatigue include (2):
- Multiple allergies
- Blurry vision
- Body aches or chronic muscle pain
- Brain fog and memory loss – excess cortisol over time affects the hippocampus, where memories are stored
- Extreme fatigue
- Cold hands and feet
- Chronic dry skin and/or brittle nails
- Hair loss
- Heart palpitations
- Low blood pressure
- Low sex drive
- Muscle weakness
- Salt and/or sugar cravings
- Poor sleep/mid-afternoon sleepiness
- Thyroid problems
- Uterine fibroids
- Unexplained weight loss or gain